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Inspiring the Redefinition of Urban Public Space

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Here's a review and look forward, focused on the expanding redefinition of American urban spaces, such as sidewalks and streets, and a symbiotic recalibration of the flanking private domain.

In a recent, related piece, I observed context and possibilities:

American placemaking advocates [should] consider pragmatic approaches when borrowing from qualities of foreign urban spaces, recalling their evolution over thousands of years under different sociocultural circumstances.

Likewise, the blog Emergent Urbanism recently cautioned to be mindful of the "patterns of place".

In American efforts to move from the food court back to the street, we should consider first our own cultural context, and without political will, the tendency of traditional street use permitting and related, safety-based regulatory regimes to discourage more expansive public use of rights-of-way for nontraditional street and sidewalk use.

Certainly, policymakers, the development community and community leaders are gaining momentum through focus upon sidewalk dining ordinances, complete streets legislation and programming, as well as compact and walkable transit oriented developments. But in a time emerging from recession and financial constraint, reinvention will not appear overnight, and allegiance to traditional regulatory schemes dies hard at the interface of public and private property lines.

The piece concluded with a modest proposal -- every Saturday morning, American cities should invoke a "quick win" to allow temporary and selective sidewalk use for two hours -- mindful of safety, yet relaxing of bureaucracy.

In the interim, American cities have continued to experiment with redefinitions of traditional uses of the public domain, including street closures, "parklets" in parking spaces and bicycle-oriented suspensions of ordinary traffic.

In particular, the mainstream press has featured coverage of the expansion of streetside dining approaches in the Pacific Northwest premised on relaxed permitting requirements, and urbanist blogs have referenced growing American experimentation with the street as a dining venue.

What else is possible? Here, from afar, is more evidence that street and square, beach and byway all have a greater and unrealized multipurpose capacity, ripe for recalibration in ever-evolving America.

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All images composed by the author. Click on each image for more detail.

Cross-posted from myurbanist and Sustainable Cities Collective.

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